For former Orioles manager Buck Showalter, Baltimore’s recent five-year stretch of winning was cultivated by finding “people you can count on” — and though he didn’t contribute much to that five-year period, a player who embodies that ethos as much as anyone is Trey Mancini, whom Showalter managed from 2016-2018 and is now battling stage 3 colon cancer.
Showalter was hired in August 2010 and took over a team that was 32-73 and last in the American League East. At that point, Baltimore had some pieces in place — like outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis and catcher Matt Wieters — but little else. The Orioles finished 66-96 in 2010 and 69-93 in 2011.
But Baltimore was the winningest team in the American League from 2012-2016, during which it went 444-366. The Orioles’ 93-69 mark in 2012 came after 14 consecutive losing seasons. Showalter said watching his players celebrate after winning the AL wild-card game against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, was a particularly memorable moment of the 2012 season.
That moment – marking the end of a rebuild and start of winning baseball – stands out to Showalter when looking back on his tenure in Baltimore. He recalled talking with club owner Peter Angelos and then-president Andy MacPhail in 2010 and 2011 about building the right identity for the team given the stiff competition in the AL East. It all came together in 2012.
“We kept talking about, ‘Who are we?’ Our fans don’t want to hear about free agents that don’t make sense,” Showalter said on Glenn Clark Radio May 4. “Who are we as the Orioles? What are we willing to do to make up the ground between us and them? We’re not going to outspend them. We can’t. But we can out-relationship them, we can out-evaluate them, we can sign players who fit the pieces that we have to have to compete – people you can count on.”
In June 2013, the Orioles drafted Mancini, who would go on to become one of those people Showalter could count on. A right-handed-hitting first baseman out of Notre Dame, Mancini hit .306/.357/.472 across five minor-league levels before making his big-league debut in 2016. He hit a home run during his debut against the Boston Red Sox Sept. 20.
Mancini has since become a staple with the club, hitting a career-best .291/.364/.535 and 35 home runs in 2019.
“He’s not a conventional, smooth-looking player, so to speak, but you could listen to him hit,” Showalter said. “You didn’t need anything analytically or sabermetrically. If you could listen to him hit, through experience you knew he had a different sound off his bat.”
Showalter explained that former Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan once told him that some of his best drafts featured area scouts banging on the table for players whom those scouts had known for years. In Mancini’s case, that scout was Kirk Fredriksson. Mancini played for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Holyoke Blue Sox during the summer of 2011, and Fredriksson was the team’s general manager.
It’s a story Showalter has relayed to his son, Nathan, a former Orioles scout.
“My son’s scouting and I tell him, ‘If you really want to sell a player, how you sell that player, Kirk almost started crying in the draft room wanting to take this guy and we took him,’” Showalter said. “He knew the other intangibles that he brought, more than just the skills. He was one of those guys, ‘Hey, we need you to play left field, we’ve got Chris Davis.’ [He said], ‘OK, where’s left field? Get me a glove, let’s go.’ There was nothing beneath him.”
Mancini revealed in an April 28 piece for The Players’ Tribune that he started chemotherapy treatments April 13 for stage 3 colon cancer and likely will not play in 2020 if there is a season. However, he’s confident that he’ll be ready to play baseball in 2021.
Since the Orioles drafted Mancini in 2013, a lot of people in and around Baltimore have gotten to see why Fredriksson pounded the table so hard for him. Not only is he the Orioles’ best player – he’s hit 86 home runs with Baltimore since being promoted in 2016 – but he’s ingratiated himself in the community as well.
“He was a good human being long before we got him,” Showalter said. “I spent time with his mom and his dad, and you knew right away that a lot of things that challenge big-league players weren’t going to challenge him because he knew right from wrong. He had his feet on the ground.”
For more from Showalter, listen to the full interview here:
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